Spanking can alter kids' brain development the way more severe abuse does, new study finds

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

"While we might not conceptualize corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child's brain responds, it's not all that different than abuse," said McLaughlin. "It's more a difference of degree than of type."

It seems to make sense when you consider that hitting a child on the bottom isn't fundamentally different from hitting them anywhere else on their body. Open or closed hand, a strike is a strike, and a strike is, by definition, violence.

In full disclosure, I wasn't spanked as a child. My husband and I have also never spanked our own kids, who are now a tween, a teen, and an adult. (And quite delightful, well-behaved human beings, I might add.) The majority of our close family friends have not spanked their kids, and we've also watched those kids grow into delightful, well-behaved human beings.

When you don't grow up with spanking, the idea honestly seems very strange. I'd no sooner hit my children on the bottom as hit them anywhere else, and I've never understood why people think that a slap on the buttocks—an area that feels quite private to me—is somehow less problematic than a slap across the face. I understand that people might see spanking differently if they're raised with it, but when it isn't something you grow up with, it's just weird.

It's also just not necessary. I've seen people argue that there are certain situations where spanking is either necessary or the most effective means of addressing a behavior, usually in situations of safety. I know many parents, for instance, think a quick smack on the bottom is an appropriate response to a small child running into the road. Little kids don't understand reason, the argument goes. However, there are other ways to instill a desirable fear into a child who doesn't understand a mortal danger.

When my wee ones headed toward the road, I grabbed them and scooped them up and showed them my own fear—with some purposeful drama thrown in for good measure—"Oh my gosh, sweetie! Are you okay?! That was SO scary! I was afraid a car was going to SQUASH you! Let me look at you." Then I checked them over, head to toe, and expressed my relief that they were okay. That did the trick with all three of them.

People often mistake positive parenting for pushover parenting, but it's not. My kids have boundaries. They are taught to be respectful to everyone, me included, and to behave like civilized humans. But kids can be taught those things through non-violent means. I can't think of a single thing that spanking would address better than methods that don't involve slapping a part of someone's body—especially a part that would be considered sexually inappropriate in any other context.

As more and more research shows that spanking isn't just unnecessary but potentially harmful, parents may wish to reconsider spanking as a method of discipline, which is the message the study authors hope people take away from this research.

"It's important to consider that corporal punishment does not impact every child the same way, and children can be resilient if exposed to potential adversities," said lead study author Jorge Cuartas. "But the important message is that corporal punishment is a risk that can increase potential problems for children's development, and following a precautionary principle, parents and policymakers should work toward trying to reduce its prevalence."

Courtesy of Verizon

If someone were to say "video games" to you, what are the first words that come to mind? Whatever words you thought of (fun, exciting, etc.), we're willing to guess "healthy" or "mental health tool" didn't pop into your mind.

And yet… it turns out they are. Especially for Veterans.

How? Well, for one thing, video games — and virtual reality more generally — are also more accessible and less stigmatized to veterans than mental health treatment. In fact, some psychiatrists are using virtual reality systems for this reason to treat PTSD.

Secondly, video games allow people to socialize in new ways with people who share common interests and goals. And for Veterans, many of whom leave the military feeling isolated or lonely after they lose the daily camaraderie of their regiment, that socialization is critical to their mental health. It gives them a virtual group of friends to talk with, connect to, and relate to through shared goals and interests.

In addition, according to a 2018 study, since many video games simulate real-life situations they encountered during their service, it makes socialization easier since they can relate to and find common ground with other gamers while playing.

This can help ease symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even PTSD in Veterans, which affects 20% of the Veterans who have served since 9/11.

Watch here as Verizon dives into the stories of three Veteran gamers to learn how video games helped them build community, deal with trauma and have some fun.

Band of Gamers

Video games have been especially beneficial to Veterans since the beginning of the pandemic when all of us — Veterans included — have been even more isolated than ever before.

And that's why Verizon launched a challenge last year, which saw $30,000 donated to four military charities.

And this year, they're going even bigger by launching a new World of Warships charity tournament in partnership with Wargaming and Wounded Warrior Project called "Verizon Warrior Series." During the tournament, gamers will be able to interact with the game's iconic ships in new and exciting ways, all while giving back.

Together with these nonprofits, the tournament will welcome teams all across the nation in order to raise money for military charities helping Veterans in need. There will be a $100,000 prize pool donated to these charities, as well as donation drives for injured Veterans at every match during the tournament to raise extra funds.

Verizon is also providing special discounts to Those Who Serve communities, including military and first responders, and they're offering a $75 in-game content military promo for World of Warships.

Tournament finals are scheduled for August 8, so be sure to tune in to the tournament and donate if you can in order to give back to Veterans in need.

Courtesy of Verizon

Ready for the weekend? Of course, you are. Here's our weekly dose of good vibes to help you shed the stresses of the workweek and put yourself in a great frame of mind.

These 10 stories made us happy this week because they feature amazing creativity, generosity, and one super-cute fish.

1. Diver befriends a fish with the cutest smile

Hawaiian underwater photographer Yuki Nakano befriended a friendly porcupine fish and now they hang out regularly.

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